MADISON — The post commander of the local Veterans of Foreign Wars organization has been arrested on allegations that he illegally made payouts to patrons who played a video poker game at the VFW and then tried to hide evidence from police after an investigation was underway.

Louis Padula, 71, of Anson, was charged Tuesday with unlawful gambling, tampering with a witness and falsifying physical evidence, said Sgt. Michael Johnston of the Maine State Police.

The charges stem from an investigation, prompted by a tip, into the Madison lodge, Harvell-Bishop VFW Post 7865 on Preble Avenue, where Padula is the commander.

“We know that in some cases individual players were paid out hundreds of dollars in a sitting,” Johnston said. “Over a period of time, you’re talking about thousands of dollars in illegal payouts.”

The investigation was conducted by the licenses and permits bureau of the state police, which oversees the licensing and regulation of nonprofit gaming, like Bingo, card games and other forms of gaming at places such as Elks Clubs, VFW and American Legion posts. While certain types of games are legal, payouts on video poker games are not, Johnston said.

“It’s for entertainment only. You’re not allowed to use it like a slot machine,” Johnston said. “There are other types of gaming that you can engage in and that you can pay out on and there are rules and laws that govern that, but this particular form of video poker machine is something you can not pay out on and that’s pretty clear. The law has been in place for quite some time.”

Police believe the payouts have been going on for years and resulted in thousands of dollars in payouts over the years, as well as an enticement to people to patronize the organization. An exact figure for the payouts was not available.

“More people are going to play if they have a chance to win money. It’s like a slot machine,” Johnston said. “So people are going in and putting $1, $5 and $20 bills into this game. If they’re losing a lot, the organization makes money. It gives these clubs that are not playing by the rules an unfair advantage over other clubs that do play by the rules — the other American Legions and VFWs.”

There have been previous cases in Maine of other organizations violating gambling laws in similar ways, according to Steve McCausland, spokesman for the Department of Public Safety.

“It is not rampant, but there are obviously either veterans organizations and/or fraternal clubs that have pushed the envelope, and that’s what happened in this case,” McCausland said.

The investigation into the Madison VFW began in January after police got a tip about the gambling. Police believe Padula interfered with witnesses and coached them on how to answer police questions, Johnston said. He is also charged with falsifying physical evidence, which is when a person alters, removes, destroys or tampers with evidence. Johnston would not give details about how evidence was altered in the case.

Padula, reached at home Wednesday, said, “I can’t say too much because of what’s going on.” He wouldn’t comment further except to say that he is meeting with a lawyer on Thursday.

Craig Jackson, adjutant for the Madison VFW, also wouldn’t comment. Other officers at the post could not be reached Wednesday.

There are no repercussions for the club at this point, Johnston said.

“It’s more about Mr. Padula than it is about the organization,” he said.

Padula was released on bail and is scheduled to appear in Somerset County court in May. As conditions of bail, he is not allowed to go to the VFW in Madison or have contact with witnesses.

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

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Twitter: @rachel_ohm